About 7 or 8 years ago, as Corwen and I were preparing to leave on our long walk to Spain, I was visiting the Abbey Community in Sutton Courtenay. Before I headed out to the shed, to carry on with my handcart construction project, someone told me not to worry about two strange Americans wearing funny costumes in the garden. They’re harmless and really lovely.
And that was how I met Ethan Hughes and his (now) wife Sarah. They were travelling Europe visiting off-grid communities, with a view to setting up something similar back in the US. You might be forgiven for thinking this is nothing spectacular, but the thing is, they were possibly the two most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
At the time, Ethan hadn’t got into a car for over five years, or used a computer, or a mobile phone…All their travel was conducted on foot, bicycle or for long journeys, train. They didn’t fly from the States, they used yachting agencies to find wind powered passage, or took places in cargo ships, where their proportional use of fossil fuels would be absolutely minimal. They always sought out home grown food over bought, and local food over imported food, they didn’t listen to or own any recorded music, and they dressed in superhero capes sometimes, “just because”, they told me…During their stay, I remember Ethan doing a 3 day long meditation and fast in the dovecot. He said he did it every year, when spring was starting, and we talked about ethics (Ghandi had most of it nailed, he said), ecology and environmentalism (keep it simple, he said) and creativity (tell stories, sing songs, make music and be alive, he said), and to be honest, I have to agree!
I went over to the Abbey several times while they were staying, and one night we threw a party by candlelight with 6 people, a feast from the garden and a live entertainment line up second to none. Ethan told a bonkers creation story, leaping from chair to chair, being a whale or something, Sarah (a trained opera singer) blew us away with her singing, and I sang and played too. It was magical. When they moved on to the next community they were visiting, I met up with them again, and we spent a day learning how to gut fish and hearing how to make a bow from scratch (first, find your dead deer and a yew tree…). And then we went our separate ways – Sarah, back to the States on a ship carrying organic lentils (you couldn’t make it up and one day I hope I will visit them by similar methods), Ethan, to one last community in Scotland, and me? Well, me and Corwen set off on our life-changing pilgrimage on foot to the end of the world.
On the brink of such an amazing journey of my own, to meet them at such a pivotal time in my life did two things: It made me feel braver, and it gave me a life-long reminder that there is more, always more you can do to minimise your impact without minimising your life experience or accomplishment.
I have never forgotten that encounter. In fact, I looked up more about them a while ago, keen to find an address if I could, because I lost the red scrap of paper it was scribbled on hastily when we parted. I managed to find out that they did indeed get married, set up a community and are still off-grid, off-line, and in the world like no-one else I know.
And then I began to see just how amazing they are. Ethan started the Superhero Bike Ride when he discovered that no-one would help him clean up the beach until he dressed in a superhero cape. It mobilises people to dress as Superheroes and go out on bicycles and do ‘service’ (ie help people in any way necessary) in the community. For the sake of it. And the Possibility Alliance, the community they have built, is thriving, and welcoming people who want to know how to be that alive. They call it ‘Radical Simplicity’ and if you look them up you will find blogs (including mine, now), articles and videos about them by others whose lives have been touched. None of these are by Ethan and Sarah, they don’t even have a computer.
- Social engagement and Activism
- Silliness, celebration, gratitude.
But despite not flying, driving, emailing, blogging or even texting, they are sending ripples around the world. And one of them rocked me. And this week I hope I passed that ripple on.